For the Love of Love, Food, Running… and my Puppy

This is a big month for the ones I love.  Not only is it the month of Valentine’s Day, of which I have always enjoyed (I am one of those major saps, and have been lucky enough to have the very best Valentine eight years running), but it’s also the birthday month of the hubs, my best friend, and my puppy!  Big news, my pup, Rocco, is officially a real dog as of yesterday – he is two years old.  I have already made a promise to myself that he will forever be called “Rocco the Puppy,” aka “Rocco T. Yaco,” aka “Mister Taco.”  Nothing will change the view I have of my one and only perfect pup.  But I digress…

Who wouldn't want kisses from this sweet pup?
Who wouldn’t want kisses from this sweet pup?

Along with all the love flowing through me this month, I am amping up my training for the continuation of half marathon season.  Thankfully Denver has been absurdly mild this winter so far, and

Beautiful but snowy, slushy and icy run through Wash Park.
Beautiful but snowy, slushy and icy run through Wash Park.

the past few weekends, well except last Sunday, have boasted temps in the 50s and 60s, with some days reaching near 70!  It’s been ideal weekend running weather, and I am so grateful.  With this in mind, I completed the last two 5ks for the Denver Race Series.  On Super Bowl Sunday, I strapped on my Yak Trax (which have been the unsung heroes of my winter running routine), bundled up, and hit the roads of Wash Park the morning after a decent snow storm.  Of course all the snow melted within the next few days, but it was a gorgeous winter wonderland run nonetheless.  This past weekend, the hubby decided to join me for the Valentine’s Day 5K: Love on the Run.  It seemed so appropriate that he was there!  It was a stunningly gorgeous day and I was so happy to have the chance to run around Wash Park with him.  After the race, we did another 2.1 miles to round off at 5.2 miles.  We’re trying to pile on the miles each weekend as we near the March 1st That Dam Half Marathon.  When the weather is nearly 70 degrees, there’s really no excuse not to take advantage of it!

The month of January was a bit of a blur, after the death of my grandmother, preparing for and performing at her memorial, and making some big shifts at work.  I have been more than happy to welcome this next month and hope the year improves from here.  I know the old adage that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, but you surely hope you don’t have cuts on your hands and you have some sugar to make the lemonade sweet.  In other words, 2015 got off to a rocky start, so I could do with a sweet, lovely transition…

On a high note, the hubs and I have not only been running quite a bit more, but we’ve been trying out great eateries around the Denver metro area.  Denver really is an up-and-coming foodie fantasy land, so it makes sense that I run so I can eat.  Let’s be honest, don’t we all, really?  Given that the hub’s birthday was last week, we went to TWO restaurants in honor of his last year in his 20s.  First we dined at our favorite steak house, Del Frisco’s.  Although a chain steak house, it’s a constant delight.  We have found a favorite waitress, know the menu like the back of our hands, and always order the Del’s Delight dessert at the end.  In every way, we always have the perfect meal.

The Ocean Prime Berries and bubbles cocktail, which actually bubbles!! You must try it.
The Ocean Prime Berries and bubbles cocktail, which actually bubbles!! You must try it.

The second restaurant we tried out with our foodie Friday friends, Scott and Danielle.  Naturally we dined on Friday at a restaurant I have often overlooked, but pass by nearly daily: Ocean Prime.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t Colorado a land-locked state?”  Well, yes… unless California, Nevada and Utah suddenly erode into the Pacific Ocean, we are still situated rather more in the middle of the country, albeit the west.  However, you’ve got to love the ease of moving fresh food quickly around the country, and there are some sensational seafood restaurants in Denver.  Ocean Prime did not disappoint.

Last week, as a pre-Valentine’s day dinner, the hubs and I trekked across town to the infamous Beast+Bottle restaurant, whose philosophy of utilizing the whole

Beast+Bottle has been one of my favorite Denver meals to date.
Beast+Bottle has been one of my favorite Denver meals to date.

animal (and vegetable/fruit for that matter) provides a most delicious experience.  We had previously gone for brunch with our dear friends, Peter and Ade, but decided this would give us the delectable dinner we’d been craving.  The past few years we had picked a new place to dine on Valentine’s Day and were constantly disappointed – by the service, the small portions, and the hurried atmosphere that stole the show of savoring a great dining experience.  This year we decided not to go out on Valentine’s Day but instead something before and after.  With that said, this was one of the BEST meals we’ve enjoyed in a LONG time.  I had the pork special, the hubs enjoyed the lamb special, we split a flatbread, and gorged on amazing desserts.  Need I say more, homemade strawberry Klondike bar.  Whoa.

What can I say, I like things in martini glasses.  "Your Own Pear-Sonal Jesus" cocktail from B+B infused with pear and creme de violet.
What can I say, I like things in martini glasses. “Your Own Pear-Sonal Jesus” cocktail from B+B infused with pear and creme de violet.
Perfect day to run with the one I love!
Perfect day to run with the one I love!

For Valentine’s Day itself, I think my hubby and I have a new tradition.  In November I registered for the Resolution Race series in City Park, and one of the races includes Le Cours de L’Amour (aka, the Course of Love).  Needless to say, my hubby was happy to join me on this one.  We ran really well together, finishing in just under 1:02 with a 9:58 pace.  This race is much like the Lucky Laces (which is part of the same series) 10K I completed last year.  It is 2 laps of a 5K through City Park, which is quite lovely, with some great views of the mountains in the distance, and a trail that hits exactly at a mile high.  The day was stunning, with a high of 65 degrees, a light breeze and wonderful morning sun.  After the race, the ladies were handed a pink rose rather than a medal.

Yup, Valentine's Day threw up all over me.
Yup, Valentine’s Day threw up all over me.
City Park really is a lovely spot to run, walk dogs, etc.  Worth wandering through on a nice Denver day.
City Park really is a lovely spot to run, walk dogs, etc. Worth wandering through on a nice Denver day.

Finally on Sunday, with winter storms looming, we went for a 4 mile run.  We wanted to go further, but the snow storm brought on some fearsome icy gusts of wind that made it quite a challenge.  2015-02-15 15.58.55With a few more miles logged for the weekend, we donned our Sunday best and headed for the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver for a picturesque and perfect afternoon tea.  We were completely spoiled during our holiday in England and Scotland.  We enjoyed 3 afternoon teas whilst there, including the Pump Room in Bath, a Parliament tea along the Thames, and a Homecoming tea at the Edinburgh Castle.  This was our first afternoon tea since returning to the states in September, and it was just the perfect way to end a busy and eventful two weeks.  All I know is there is nothing better than exploring new places to eat, new races to run, and new adventures with my husband.  I am one lucky gal.

Gorgeous tea at the Brown Palace and my favorite date.
Gorgeous tea at the Brown Palace and my favorite date.
That is a good spread, complete with Kir Royal.
That is a good spread, complete with Kir Royal.
If you haven't been to the Brown Palace in Denver, go on a sunny day, stand in the middle and look up.  The stained glass ceiling is breathtaking.
If you haven’t been to the Brown Palace in Denver, go on a sunny day, stand in the middle and look up. The stained glass ceiling is breathtaking.

Dining (and Wining) Around the World: The Epcot Food and Wine Festival

I finally got to tell you about the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, but I almost forgot the entire reason that race exists: the Epcot Showcase of Nations Food and Wine Festival!  Each fall, Disney hosts an expansive Food and Wine festival, in which the Showcase of Nations is transformed with additional food stands for numerous other countries.  In total, there are 36 countries/regions represented.  Given it is Friday and a time for favorites, I am going to list off my favorite items from the festival, and some items that were worth a bite, but not quite as memorable.  Thank goodness I took pictures of the menus, because we had so many good nibbles and sips it’d be hard to remember them all! 2014-FW-Festival-Guide-MAP-AND-MARKETPLACES-2014-page-0011.  The Spicy Hand Roll from Japan: Japan did not hold back in creating a delicious and rather large hand roll that took numerous bites to finish.  This roll included both tuna and salmon and a delicious, lick-your-fingers-when-it’s-done-it’s-so-tasty Kazan Volcano sauce.  Both Mrs. BakeNBurn and I ordered this and I could have had another and called it a meal.

2.  Given I am Greek and spent this past weekend making my Nicolau family baklava, I have to go with Greece’s spanakopita! My mother, I think, makes the best

Mmmm cheese, honey, fillo and spinach... I love my roots.
Mmmm cheese, honey, fillo and spinach… I love my roots.

version (she makes a spanakopita crustard, aka pie, which will knock your socks off), but these delicate triangles had just the right balance of cheesey gooeyness and spinach.

3.  Speaking of cheese, I have to follow-up number two with the griddled Greek cheese with pistachios and honey. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory, and I really wanted to lick the paper tray when I was finished.

4.  Moving on to good ol’ America, and in keeping with my love of cheese, I have to say that the American lobster macaroni and cheese (or pasta alfredo as they attempted to market it) was delectable. The hubs and I savored every last bite of this mac ‘n’ cheese – because what’s better than pasta, cheese, butter and lobster?  I also had their carrot cake, which was tasty, but not overly exceptional.

Canada was pretty darn tasty!
Canada was pretty darn tasty!

5.  Canada did a great job with their “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce. Although the filet was a little overcooked and tough, the sauce was delicious and not overpowering.

6.  Je aime la France! As one should expect, I focused on some bubbly and dessert in France. It’s really what I most enjoy about French dining – Champagne, pastries, and all things dessert.  The sea salt caramel crème brulee was quite a tasty treat, although could have used more sea salt to balance the caramel.  The sparkling pomegranate Kir Royale, however, whet my palate with perfection!

Pomegranate Kir = Great Decision.
Pomegranate Kir = Great Decision.

7.  Having recently visited Scotland, which someday I will share with you, I had been craving a local dessert called Cranachan. This dessert is traditionally served

Where's my Scotch?
Where’s my Scotch?

as whisky (or Scotch to us Americans) soaked raspberries, layered with whipped cream and toasted oats.  It is DELICIOUS.  This version, sad to say, did not live up to my memories from Whiski, a fabulous whisky bar and eatery along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.  The raspberries weren’t soaked in whisky at all, so the hubs and I also ordered a sample of Scotch to pour into it.  Good, but still not quite right.

This about sums up Edinburgh...
This about sums up Edinburgh…
Two military brats and their beloved Deutschland!
Two military brats and their beloved Deutschland!

8.  Danke Deutschland! The Riesling samplers were awesome.  Both Samantha and I spent some time in Germany, being the military brats we are, so of course we had to pop over to Germany.  We were torn between the beer or the Riesling flight, but we went with the wine.  It was delicious.  We both liked number 2 the best, but I had a preference for the third, and Samantha for the first, so we split them perfectly and enjoyed each tasty sip!

It's appropriate to just drink in Germany...
It’s appropriate to just drink in Germany…

9.  The hubs loves himself some duck, so we stopped in China for the Beijing Roasted Duck in Hoisin Sauce, which was almost sticky bun style. I took a nibble and it was awesome, so this one I wish I had saved more room to eat in entirety.

10.  We stopped in Mexico, even though we would later dine at La Hacienda, so the hubs could get his tequila flight and I could try the mango-strawberry 2014-11-09 16.41.40margarita. The tequila flight was decent and the margarita too sweet.  If you go to the San Angel Inn restaurant in Epcot, you pick varying quality levels for your tequila flight, which is a much better option.

11.  Of course an offering of Prosecco in Italy was a delight, and really a tradition whenever in the World Showcase!

12.  And finally, who would I be, the Anglophile I am, if I didn’t get a hard cider from England?  Alas, it was not Bulmer’s, but I do enjoy the occasional Strongbow as well!

Ciders and beers in hand!
Ciders and beers in hand!

Sadly I wasn’t able to get to everything.  Our stomachs just wouldn’t allow it.  The next time I go, I would recommend either a true whole day in Epcot (starting at 11am when the booths open) and break it up with some of the other activities’ Epcot has to offer (maybe not Mission Space, unless you really do want to lose your lunch to fit in more food…).  We were able to see Captain EO (any Michael Jackson fan NEEDS to see this MJ meets Star Wars movie music spectacular – directed by George Lucas and everything!).  It’s one of the hubby’s favs, so of course we had to educate Mr. and Mrs. BakeNBurn.  We also rode Soarin’, Spaceship Earth (LOVE it, always a favorite thanks to the narration of Dame Judy Dench), and Living with the Land.  We, of course, closed the day with one of my favorite firework shows, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  I mean, I may have the CD soundtrack and know all the words to the song… You know… Overall, it was the perfect way to end our Disney trip with such incredible friends.

Can't wait to go back!
Can’t wait to go back!

Isn’t the Epcot Food and Wine Festival the best excuse an adult could have to drink around the world?  Which nation looks the best to you?  Aren’t you impressed we stayed awake to eat and drink that long?

Waiting for Wine and Dine and Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Wednesday world!  It’s post-election day, which means I am a happy camper because now the campaign ads are finally over.  Unless you’re Louisiana… which stinks.  But not here in Colorado, at least.  Hooray!  Otherwise, I am also excited that it’s Wednesday because that means I leave TOMORROW for Disney World with the hubs to meet up with our friends Mr. and Mrs. BakeNBurn for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon and the renowned Food and Wine Festival in Epcot!

We all will arrive in Orlando late Thursday evening, but with enough time to rest up for a full day on Friday!  Friday morning we will be heading out to the Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, where we will pick up our bibs, tech shirts and other goodies.  After that we’ll head out to the Magic Kingdom for a full day of fun and festivities.  On the docket are riding Buzz Lighyear’s Space Ranger Spin, tackling Space Mountain, and making our way through Pirates of the Caribbean.  One of the elements I am most excited for that day is finally dining at Be Our Guest inside the Beast’s castle!!  Ever since my last visit in February I have been longing to dine there, and we finally got the chance!  That night is the first night of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which should be a blast given all the rides, treats and shows that will occur throughout the night.  It should be a phenomenally incredible first day in Disney.

There will be too much fun to be had!
There will be too much fun to be had!

Saturday is race day, so we plan to rest as much as possible during the day, and fuel up as needed.  I envision lounging by

So excited to run another race with this crew!
So excited to run another race with this crew!

the pool and an afternoon doze session.  That evening we’ll head out to the race area at around 6:15pm.  The race actually begins at 10:00pm, and we’re all starting in corral H, so we will have a bit of time to wait, but this way we’re there and won’t be in a rush.  This race will differ from the Princess Half Marathon as it goes through three parks, including Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and ends in Epcot.  Because it’s all at night, the parks will be lit up (especially the Osborne Family Lights in Hollywood Studios!), and Christmas decorations will adorn the entire facility.  Disney does an incredible job keeping the runners entertained en route, even between the parks, with characters, music, and the ChEAR squad, so I doubt there will be a dull moment along the way.  After the race, there’s a huge finish line party, with food, drinks and lots of fun to be had.  Although it’ll be around 1:00am in the morning, I think we’ll make the most of it before heading back to the resort.

On Sunday we will make our way to Epcot to indulge in the Epcot International Food and Wine festival around the showcase of nations.  This part I am particularly excited for given my foodie nature.  Dozens of countries (beyond those typically represented) will have booths set up with local flavors and national delicacies.  I am SO excited to taste my way around the world, and I am sure the boys are excited to drink around the world too!

Sadly on Monday we depart, but not until later in the day to allow for a lazy morning.  We’ll probably get a bit breakfast, lounge by the pool a bit more, pack up, and head to the airport.  All in all, I am so excited for this little getaway and racecation with the hubs and our dearest friends!

But before I head out on my magical adventure, I still have work and a fun fall-themed potluck with another advising office on campus to look forward to.  In the spirit of the season, our two offices decided to have a chili cook-off!  A few of my coworker made variations of chili, others brought in sides and fixings, and I, of course, brought dessert!  I didn’t want to make my go-to pumpkin bread as I brought that to our last potluck, but knew I still wanted to bake with pumpkin.  So I hopped on the internet and searched for chewy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Thankfully it brought me to one of my favorite baking bloggers, Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I previously made her birthday cake blondies, which were a HUGE hit with the hubs and my office, so I thought I would give her cookies a try.  I am a big fan of chewy cookies as well, as chocolate chip cookies should be, so I wanted something similar that wouldn’t end up cakey or crunchy.

As Sally explained, pumpkins are primarily water, and typically watery cookie batters produce cakey cookies.  To avoid this, the recipe calls for melted butter, which helps to glue the ingredients together (rather than make the batter fluffy), and remove the eggs as the pumpkin will act as an adhesive and moistening agent.  So without further ado, Sally’s Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients2014-11-04 19.11.10

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup light or dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 Tablespoons pumpkin puree (I used the rest in another of Sally’s amazing recipes!)

1 and ½ cups all-purpose flour (I used Hungarian High Altitude Flour)

¼ teaspoon salt

My other Sally's creation of the night!  Lightened-up Pumpkin Bars!
My other Sally’s creation of the night! Lightened-up Pumpkin Bars!

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 and ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (plus some extra to add to the cookies after removing them from the oven)

Directions

Melt the butter over the stove or in a microwave safe bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together until no brown sugar lumps remain. Add the vanilla and pumpkin until smooth. Set the wet ingredients aside.

2014-11-04 19.30.11In a larger bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and, if you’d like, a ¼ teaspoon of cloves (I typically do not use cloves, due to family preference). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together with a rubber spatula. The dough will form into a ball and be fairly soft.  Fold in ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. It may be difficult to incorporate them evenly, but work them through as best you can. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll the dough into balls, about 1 ½ Tablespoons of dough each. Press down on the dough balls and flatten them because the cookies will only slightly spread in the oven. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. The cookies will look very soft and underbaked, but trust me, this is how you want them so they’ll remain nice and chewy. Any extra time in the oven will cause them to dry out and become hard.  Remove from the oven and press a few more chocolate chips onto the tops, if desired.  If you find that your cookies didn’t spread much at all, flatten them out when you take them out of the oven.

Make sure to press down the dough as they will not spread much in the oven.
Make sure to press down the dough as they will not spread much in the oven.
Look at those beautiful golden chewy cookies!
Look at those beautiful golden chewy cookies!

Allow the cookies to cool for at least 10 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack.  The more cooling time they have, they chewier they are!   Store the cookies in an airtight container and they should last up to a week.  Enjoy!

2014-11-04 20.50.25
Too good for words.

Have you ever been to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival?  What did you think?  What was your favorite dish or nation?  Are you as obsessed as I am with all things pumpkin?

Making the Most of It: Pre-Trip Festivities!

Another amazing Colorado weekend in the books.  With my trip to the United Kingdom a matter of FOUR days away, I am trying to make the most of my last week in Colorado before we leave.  Over the weekend, other than prepping for our impending travels, the hubs and I were busy hosting the in-laws for a delectable home cooked meal, getting in some miles in preparation for our fall races, and I met up with some local sorority sisters for a hike and an unexpected adventure.

Saturday started off with a nice five mile run with the hubs, followed by necessary errands to prepare for our trip.  With all of the changes we have made in our diet and regular exercise routine, my hubby has lost quite a bit of weight.  It was definitely time, possibly overdue, to get him some new duds to show off his svelte figure.  Obviously we want to look our best abroad, and London is a classy city, so it was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of updating his wardrobe.  Besides, I love shopping for him… there’s something so enjoyable about dressing men!

That evening we hosted my in-laws for a home cooked meal as a thank you for taking care of our adorable pup, Rocco, while we’re away.  We’ve

I cannot begin to express how much I am going to miss my puppy boy!
I cannot begin to express how much I am going to miss my puppy boy!

had our puppy for just over a year and have never left him for more than 4 days.  This is going to be a big switch for us, and I can already tell I am going to have separation anxiety.  Luckily my in-laws also have a Chihuahua who is our pup’s best friend in the whole world.  Something tells me this will be a vacation for Rocco too.  On the menu for the evening was a delicious cheese plate with Manchego and Pecorino cheeses, rosemary olive oil crisps and crostini from Whole Foods, and black seedless grapes.  With this in mind, the hubs and I decided to go Italian.

We prepared homemade pork meatballs, which we seasoned ourselves, freshly made creamy polenta (my first time making it!), and topped with homemade San Marzano tomato sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano and arugula.  I am a bad blogger and didn’t take a picture of the awesomeness.  The recipe was based off of a dish I used to order at my favorite little Italian restaurant in Boulder, Radda Trattoria.  The hubs and I were so spoiled because this restaurant was just across the street from our townhome, so it became a restaurant staple.  The meal is called Polpette e Polenta, and is too delicious for words.  Without fail, this was always what I ordered.  It’s also this restaurant where I first had a Martini Basilico, which my hubby has beautifully been able to recreate at home (YAY!).  We finished the meal with my mother-in-law’s homemade peach bourbon upside down cake.  Overall, it was a phenomenal meal.

Another perfect day for a hike!
Another perfect day for a hike!

The next morning I met up with two local sorority sister for a Sunday morning hike.  We drove west towards Morrison, the same place I had hike the weekend before, but this time we went to a trail on the opposite side of Red Rocks amphitheater.  The trailhead, Mt. Falcon, takes two paths.  One, the Castle Trail, is mountain biker friendly, so a number of adventurists passed us on the trail, impressively navigating the terrain on bike.  At the first summit, you can see beautiful vistas of the valley below and the Denver skyline in the distance.  Although we decided not to go to the top of Mt. Falcon, for timing reasons, we took the Turkey Trot trail around the back side of the foothill, which allowed for amazing views and a gorgeous woodsy atmosphere.

My hiking buddies, Kaitlin and Christie!
My hiking buddies, Kaitlin and Christie!
The Turkey Trot trail took us through some beautiful woodsy paths.
The Turkey Trot trail took us through some beautiful woodsy paths.
Love these views!
Love these views!
We found Red Rocks!
We found Red Rocks!

After hiking, we drove to downtown Golden for lunch.  We sat on the back patio of the Buffalo Rose bar and grill, and quickly realized we were in the middle of the USA Pro Challenge cycling race.  The main street of Golden was lined with spectators trying to catch a glimpse.  I’d never seen a cycling race in person, so when the hordes of cyclists passed a dizzying speeds, followed closely by pace cars, I was pretty excited.

Definitely an unexpected surprise for our day!
Definitely an unexpected surprise for our day!  Source

Shortly afterwards we tried to leave Golden, and realized the city was shut down for the race.  We managed to cross into the entrance to the Coors factory, and the guard at the gate allowed us to drive through their property

Fort Keg, it's a pretty formidable structure.
Fort Keg, it’s a pretty formidable structure.

to get back to the highway.  Having done the Coors factory tour four times now, I had absolutely no idea how HUGE the factory is.  We drove for quite some time through service roads connecting the facility together, interspersed with Coors’ own railway system.  It was impressive.  Then we saw the castle of kegs, and that was incredible.  I doubt they were full (that would not live up to the Coors cold-brewed standard), but it definitely made me wonder how much beer could fill all of them…  It was in every way a memorable day!

Yeah, not sure we really should have been allowed back here... oh well!
Yeah, not sure we really should have been allowed back here… oh well!
The sunsets along my run are always so beautiful!
The sunsets along my run are always so beautiful!

This week, interspersed with packing, I have jam-packed in fun events and last-minute get-togethers.  Yesterday I fit in a 5K run in preparation for the Esprit de She 10K this Thursday.  The sunset was stunning, and the weather perfection (finally).  Hello 65º!  I hope Thursday night has similar weather.  Tonight, after Zumba, I am stopping by the Esprit de She Packet Pickup Party at the Athleta shop in Denver’s Cherry Creek area.  Not only can I get my bib, but as a participant we also get 20% off in store, snacks, giveaways and more.  Yes please!  Tomorrow evening I will be going to the Squeaky Bean with my friend Danielle for pre-trip cocktails.  The Squeaky Bean boasts one of the best professional mixologists in Denver, so the drinks are fabulous.  Finally, Thursday I will be running the Esprit de She with my friend Christie, and cannot wait for the post-race festivities.

Have a great week everyone – make every day an adventure!

How did you make the most of your last summer weekend?  Do you know how much beer could fill all of those kegs?  What are you looking forward to this week?

High Altitude Gluten Free Red Velvet Cupcakes

Try saying that ten times fast!   This recipe, I must admit, is pretty fantastic.  Although I am not allergic to gluten, I have wanted to dabble in gluten free baking for some time.  I have had plenty of great gluten free baked goods (along with numerous not so good gluten free baked goods), so I wanted to put my pastry skills to the test.  Personally I feel these cupcakes were a huge success, especially given that my seven-person work team consumed 10 of them in a matter of 5 hours.  Not too shabby!

This recipe is pretty fabulous... just sayin...
This recipe is pretty fabulous… just sayin…

While I am truly appreciating the effects of this cleanse, I will be very happy to bake again.  Baking is my happy place, my stress reliever and my favorite hobby.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as creating something from scratch – combining just the right elements to produce a treat so mouthwatering and delectable – and watching others enjoy the end result.  That is why I love baking.

It was time, then, to push myself a bit further and work with ingredients I have not utilized before.  Conquering, or at least adjusting to, high altitude baking was one major feat.  Now gluten free!  I am a huge fan of red velvet cupcakes.  A HUGE fan.  The hubs isn’t so keen, which I cannot possibly understand (I think it might have to do with the cream cheese frosting, which is absolutely insane as cream cheese frosting is epically amazing).  With this in mind, I made these cupcakes for my coworkers.  With the move a few days away, I wanted to show them my gratitude in making the transition that much smoother.  I think they got the message, and if not, they got a belly full of yummy goodness instead.  Same thing, right?

So without further ado, my very own gluten free red velvet cupcakes (with help from a number of great sources)!

High Altitude Gluten Free Red Velvet Cupcakes (If you would like the same recipe – remember to use the Gluten Free Cake Flour – for sea level baking, both recipes are provided here!)

Ingredients

For the Gluten Free Cake Flour:

3 cups brown rice flour (this needs to be fine ground)

1 cup potato starch (NOT potato flour)

½ cup tapioca flour

1 ¼ teaspoons xanthan gum (can also use guar gum)

For the Cupcakes:

The color is surprisingly rich - and the batter very tasty!
The color is surprisingly rich – and the batter very tasty!

1 ¼ cup Gluten Free Cake Flour

2/3 cup baker’s sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 large egg

¾ cup vegetable oil

½ buttermilk (I used heavy cream)

1 teaspoon red food coloring (Betty Crocker Classic Gel Food Colors are also gluten free!)

1 teaspoon vanilla (I use Penzeys Double Strength Vanilla Extract)

1 teaspoon White Vinegar

¾ teaspoon baking powder

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8 ounce package of cream cheese (I used light cream cheese)

Seriously though, who doesn't love cream cheese frosting?
Seriously though, who doesn’t love cream cheese frosting?

8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

I know it looks like a lot of work, but it is completely worth the effort!  Start by creating your cake flour.  Sift the brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and xanthan gum in a small bowl, and combine thoroughly.  You will want to store this in an airtight container or Ziploc bag for future use, and you will utilize 1 ¼ cup for the cupcake recipe.

Now let’s start on the cupcakes.  Whip together the sugar, eggs, and oil with an electric mixer or beater until combined, but do not over whip (especially for high altitude).  Alternate adding the dry ingredients, except the baking powder, with the wet ingredients, except the vinegar.  Once the batter is smooth, add the red gel food coloring.  Combine together the vinegar and baking powder and mix for 10 seconds, then pour this mixture into the batter and mix for another 10 seconds.

Make sure to make them even so they cook evenly.
Make sure to make them even so they cook evenly.

Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, fill a pre-lined cupcake pan about ¾ of the way full.  Bake at 375º F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Make sure to allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing them.

For the frosting, combine the room temperature cream cheese and butter together in a bowl using an electric beater until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add the confectioners’ sugar gradually, ½ cup at a time, until no lumps are visible, and then incorporate the vanilla until just combined.  Spoon into a piping bag or ice using an icing spatula.  I added a bit of food coloring to the frosting just for fun! Enjoy!

Although they sunk slightly, they were so moist and delicious inside!
Although they sunk slightly, they were so moist and delicious inside!
Pretty yellow cream cheese frosting flowers!
Pretty yellow cream cheese frosting flowers!
SO good... I am looking forward to a sweet treat post-cleanse...
SO good… I am looking forward to a sweet treat post-cleanse…

Have you dabbled in gluten free baking?  What did you think?  How did it go?  What are your favorite kind of cupcakes?

 

Forgotten Trail & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Gorgeous evening sky along the trail behind my neighborhood on Monday.
Gorgeous evening sky along the trail behind my neighborhood on Monday.

This past weekend, as well as Monday evening, I ventured down an almost forgotten trail that originates steps from my front door.  It’s an awesome trail tucked between neighborhoods, schools, and golf courses, and I finally realized that this same trail connects me to my favorite running trail in Denver: the Highline Canal trail.  (You can learn more about the Highline Canal trail from Ramblen – they have an awesome review!) It took me over a year of living in my neighborhood to realize it, but at least I figured it out!  The trail is shared by equestrians, runners, and cyclists, and wraps around the back of my neighborhood until is runs alongside a service road for a private school nearby.  Finally it runs into a paved trail that follows much of the town I live in and eventually intersects the Highline Canal trail.

Last summer this was my go-to evening trail, but with fall and winter I stuck with paved roads so as to avoid muddy, uneven ground.  I decided recently to give it a go again, and I am glad I did.  I typically use this as a short evening trail run, so hadn’t taken it very far.  Given its convenience, it’s the perfect post-workday running route.  Sunday, however, I decided to keep

I love the wildlife refuge area around this beautiful pond - so peaceful!
I love the wildlife refuge area around this beautiful pond – so peaceful!

going.  The days this month have been hot, and for Colorado standards, humid (except most of this week in which temps dropped to the 60s and we had 36 straight hours of cloud cover and rain – weird!).  I knew I had to get my run in early, and didn’t want to drive (the 5 minutes…) to my usual entry point to the Highline Canal.  So I set off at about 8:15am, and after my usual 2 mile turnaround point, I ventured on.  Low and behold, just a few hundred feet beyond that point, the trail runs right through the Highline Canal trail.  Who knew?  Well, obviously not me, but given the many other people on the trail that morning, I am one of few who were completely oblivious… Oh well!

I had already decided to get a 10K in that morning, but was so excited to experience this whole other section of the Highline Canal trail that looked very different than the portion I was used to.  I passed by a wildlife refuge area with an amazingly clear blue pond.  Beyond that were fields and farms, nestled away but incredibly close to my neighborhood.  This section wraps around the other edge of the private school I pass on my little neighborhood trail, and rolling hills seem to just keep stretching out beyond that.  It’s a little slice of heaven.  By the time I hit over 3 miles and turned back towards home, I was in an amazing mood.  It was a great run – so good in fact I ran a little over four miles Monday evening to be able to get some time on this newfound piece of my favorite trail.

Perfectly convenient trail that will allow me to get miles in easily, without having to drive!
Perfectly convenient trail that will allow me to get miles in easily, without having to drive!

Enough with the healthy stuff, let’s get on to the delicious recipe that I just have to share with you!  I got this recipe find originally from my friend Colleen back in Washington D.C., but found a modified version recently thanks to Sweet Eats and Crafts (great foodie blog!).  This recipe is not a health-conscious recipe, but instead a delectably easy, perfectly chewy cookie recipe.  I am a huge fan of soft chewy chocolate chip cookies, particularly right out of the oven, and this recipe fulfills that desire.  It’s such a straight forward recipe that I made them in about 30 minutes, including prep and clean up.  Awesome!  The key is butter flavored shortening – it makes all the difference in the world.  Without further ado, Sweet Eats and Crafts’ Soft Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Soft Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Not too many ingredients, and absolutely delish!
Not too many ingredients, and absolutely delish!

¾ stick of Butter Flavor Shortening baking stick (I used butter flavor Crisco)

1 ¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar given it was what I had available)

2 tablespoons milk (I used skim milk)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I prefer Penzeys Double Strength Vanilla Extract for a flavor punch)

1 large egg

1 ¾ cups All Purpose Flour (at high altitude I recommend Hungarian High Altitude Flour)

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon baking soda

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

I love how easy this recipe is!
I love how easy this recipe is!

Preheat the oven to 375º F. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla with a hand-held mixer on medium speed until well-blended. Once creamy, add the egg and blend again until incorporated.

In a small bowl, stir the flour, salt, and baking soda, and then add to the creamed mixture using a spatula to fold the ingredients into the batter. Add the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

Using a cookie-scoop or spoon, drop 2 rounded tablespoons of the dough on pan lined with parchment paper, about 2-3 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes.  If you make a slightly larger cookie, they may need to bake for 10-12 minutes.

The cookies may appear to be slightly under-baked, but this is because they are much softer.  Allow them to cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.  Make sure to store the cookies in an airtight container to maintain freshness. Enjoy!

Definitely let them cool first so they don't fall apart when transferring them... it's hard to wait.
Definitely let them cool first so they don’t fall apart when transferring them… it’s hard to wait.
It is a challenge to just eat one... or two... and no more...
It is a challenge to just eat one… or two… and no more…
Who doesn't love a great chocolate chip cookie?
Who doesn’t love a great chocolate chip cookie?

What is your secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie?  Do have any great trails surrounding you?  Where do you run on weeknights when there’s less time to commit?

Runbelievable BolderBOULDER and Jam-Packed Weekend

Well I feel ashamed I have not yet recounted the results of the BolderBOULDER yet.  It’s been nearly three weeks… but a fun and crazy three weeks it’s been.  After Samantha, aka Miss Bakenburn, and her hubby departed Colorado, the hubs and I hosted another guest, had an amazing weekend trip to Vegas, and continued preparing for another 10K.  I’ve decided our home is much more like a bed and breakfast than a home, which is perfect because I love being the hostess with mostest!

But back to the BolderBOULDER… I am easily distracted on Fridays.  This is honestly one of my favorite running events.  It is so much more

We were looking rather Patriotic ourselves!
We were looking rather Patriotic ourselves!

than just a race.  The BolderBOULDER, or BB for short, is a massive celebration for Memorial Day.  It honors our nation’s Veterans with ROTC running units, military personnel parachuting into the CU Boulder stadium, and an incredible tribute at the very end.  Even if you don’t run the race, watching the excitement and participating in the spectacle are well worth it.  50,000 people participate each year, so it’s a pretty big event!

Our day began at 6:00am, when we left for Boulder.  Typically it is a 45 minute drive from my home south of Denver to Boulder.  Given the enormity of the BB, I gave myself plenty of time.  We hit some unnecessary traffic due to a cop car on the side of the highway, but made it to the parking garage on CU Boulder’s campus by 7:30am.  Our wave, FL (one of nearly 100 waves), was set to depart at 7:39:50am, but after the walk to the start line and stop at the bathroom, we arrived 5 minutes late.  Luckily you can always start in a later wave than your assigned one, and so we were off with group GA!

Before starting the BolderBOULDER, on the way to our start wave!
Before starting the BolderBOULDER, on the way to our start wave!
We found the start line- ready to go!
We found the start line- ready to go!

We started the race at a good, easy pace, taking in the sights and sounds.  There are bands and performers located all throughout the course.  Seriously though, there are 36 groups performing over 6.2 miles – that’s pretty amazing!  Each kilometer and mile are marked, including the highest point of the race, Casey Hill, at 5,391 feet located just after mile marker 4.  We ran fairly steady with our friends until just about mile 3.  Elevation can be a beast when you aren’t used to it, and because you can’t “see” elevation, you don’t really think about it until it is hard to breath.  On a vacation to Colorado before moving here, I experienced elevation sickness, and I felt absolutely horrid.  We didn’t want them to go through that mid-race.  At that point the hubs and I went on ahead so our friends could get into a comfortable rhythm and ease their pace a bit.

We really enjoyed the race this year!  We had a bit more practice this time around!
We really enjoyed the race this year! We had a bit more practice this time around!
Aren't our ensembles super cute?
Aren’t our ensembles super cute?

The hubs and I ran all the way through to the finish, constantly commenting on how much easier it was this year.  Last year’s BB was our very

You definitely feel like a rockstar crossing the finish line!
You definitely feel like a rockstar crossing the finish line!

first race, after only discovering running 3 months prior (and starting a running career at altitude no less)!  While we had a blast, it wasn’t easy.  This year, however, was a breeze.  We were able to enjoy the belly dancers, local bands, Irish Step Dancers, the group of fiddlers, the cupcake break, doritos, and slip-n-slides so much more.

By far, the best part of the race is the end.  You run up Folsom Road into the side entrance of the CU Boulder stadium, then loop ¾ of the way around the stadium with spectators and completed runners cheering you on.  It’s a barrage of sound, excitement, and glory.  In that moment, you feel like a pro!  Needless to say, the hubs and I locked hands and sprinted through the finish line.  After crossing, you work your way through perfectly calculated post-race check-points: first timing tag removal and finisher photos, then Gatorade and water, and finally lunches in bright green lunch bags and beers for those of age.  You emerge from the stadium into an impressive post-race expo with local and big-name vendors scattering the campus.

Yeah, we were that couple - holding hands through the finish line!
Yeah, we were that couple – holding hands through the finish line!

After meeting up with Samantha and her hubby, we wandered the Expo for a bit and then decided to head back to Denver for a delicious barbeque and cocktails.  Ultimately it was the perfect Memorial Day weekend, and I cannot wait to run it again next year!

What an awesome accomplishment!!
What an awesome accomplishment!!

As I mentioned, the very next week one of my hubby’s dearest friends from high school and college came to stay for a few days before throwing his other friend’s camping bachelor party.  It was a great visit, and was the perfect way to kick off my birthday week!  He arrived on that Wednesday and we went to Barolo Grill, an incredible Italian restaurant nestled in the Cherry Creek district of Denver.  What makes this restaurant so phenomenal is the dedicated wait staff.  Each year, the restaurant sends its staff, and of course chefs and line cooks, to Italy to learn more about the cuisine, the wine, and the culture of food in Tuscany (makes me want to be a waitress again!).  The service is excellent, the food divine, and I got an amazing little treat for my birthday.  What can I say?  I don’t celebrate the day, I celebrate the month!  The next month we went to my favorite steak house of all time, Del Frisco’s, home of the best filet Oscar and the VIP – Svedka Clementine Vodka infused with fresh Hawaiian pineapple. INCREDIBLE.  May and June are turning into some amazing months for friends, fun and food!

This weekend marks 2 big things: Father’s Day and the US Open (golf of course people).  The hubs began watching the first round yesterday, and is so thrilled for the weekend.  I see gin and tonics in our future… But besides that, the hubs and I are running the Denver Father’s Day 10K this weekend!  We wanted to get a 10K in the books together, and as it is also puppy daddy day, we thought it’d be fun to do something together that we both enjoy.  This race will take us through north Denver, in the Stapleton area.  It’s looking like it’ll be a perfect weather day – mid-80’s, partly cloudy, and a light breeze!

Any plans for the weekend and Father’s Day?  Have you ever run the BolderBoulder – what did you think?  Are you going to watch the US Open?  Any predictions on the victor?